LAS VEGAS – Since Kyle and Kurt Busch don't seem particularly interested in the job, Dylan Kwasniewski is more than ready to be the Las Vegas Motor Speedway's newest hometown hero.
The 18-year-old Nationwide Series driver is having a busy week in the town where he grew up and learned to race. Between crashing at his friends' homes and going out on a date or two, he got to race this track for the first time — and though he slammed into the wall during practice Friday, he's excited about fulfilling a childhood wish this weekend.
"I've always been dreaming about getting on track here," Kwasniewski said. "I've been to all the races here, watched what goes on, but to actually be here, race at the track in front of my hometown and hopefully have the home crowd cheering me on, it's going to be pretty cool."
Kwasniewski walks around looking like an X-Games star with his loud, flat-brimmed cap pulled down to rest snugly on his eyebrows, and his talent is backing it up so far. Turner Motorsport has put Kwasniewski in to run a full Nationwide schedule, thanks to sponsorship from Las Vegas-based Rockstar Energy Drinks.
Kwasniewski leaped onto the scene two weeks ago by winning the pole for the Nationwide Series race at Daytona, the first rookie to do so since Rusty Wallace in 1985. Kwasniewski finished eighth, and he's eager to keep learning on the high banks of the 1.5-mile Vegas oval.
"The only laps I've ever had on here is with the Petty Experience," Kwasniewski said in reference to the Richard Petty Driving Experience, which allows fans to drive the track. "Anybody can do that. I'm coming in on a new slate. Some people say, 'Oh, it's home-town advantage.' I'm like, 'You guys don't get it. I've never been on this track before.'"
Kwasniewski is the latest promising driver produced by Las Vegas, the hometown of NASCAR stars Kurt and Kyle Busch and veteran Brendan Gaughan. Kyle Busch doesn't know Kwasniewski well yet, but he's excited to see another top driver coming out of Sin City.
"I've heard nothing but good things about him," Busch said. "He's come up a pretty good way, and he's won races in about everything he's participated in, which is good. ... Hopefully the talent precedes the name and he can continue on."
Kyle Busch wasn't exactly excited about returning to his hometown Friday, saying it's "not necessarily a racing town whatsoever" and suggesting he doesn't have much fan support back home because he won too many races here as an up-and-coming driver.
Kwasniewski learned to race by winning on a tight bullring track in the valley, but he doesn't feel the same crowd distaste the Busch boys apparently experienced.
"In Vegas, they see the talent coming out of here," he said. "They see people succeed, and they want to see that. The guys that I race at the bullring, I think they think it's cool I'm getting up there because it can kind of pave the way for them. Kyle and Kurt did that for us, and hopefully I can pave the way as well."
Kwasniewski hasn't been gone long enough to lose his fondness for Vegas. He missed his graduation last June while racing in a regional NASCAR event in Iowa, so when he got back to town this week, he wasted no time recapturing those golden high-school glory days of nine months ago.
"Just been hanging out with my friends," he said. "I've gotten to take this girl out on a date a couple of times. Went to a show. Did a helicopter tour, which was pretty cool. I've never done any of these things. I've lived in Vegas for so long, so I decided to live it up, decided to live like I'm a tourist. I get to stay in my best friend's house and sleep in a comfortable bed, a bed I'm used to, but also just be a tourist."